A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: Transforming a vacant lot into an urban farm transforms a neighborhood as well

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story by April White • photos by Emily WrenWhen Dylan Baird first saw the abandoned lot near 53rd and Wyalusing in the Haddington neighborhood of West Philly, it was all weed trees and trash. “You couldn’t even walk across it,” he recalls. Today, the ¾-acre property, ringed by rowhomes, is an urban farm, bursting with tomatoes and peppers, string beans and okra, collard and kale.

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Baird is the business manager of Neighborhood Foods, an experiment in urban farming as both community improvement tool and self-sustaining business model. Three years into the project, the Haddington farm and a second 1½-acre parcel near the stadiums grow 10,000 pounds of food a year. Produce sales — to restaurants, at farmers markets and through a CSA — now finance about 50 percent of Neighborhood Farms’ operations, Baird says.

At 53rd and Wyalusing, the farm’s neighbors gather for Neighborhood Foods’ weekly Saturday market. Members of the organization’s neighborhood advisory group staff the market, selling produce at affordable prices, $1 or $2 a pound. At the Rittenhouse Farmers Market, the same heirloom tomatoes go for $4 a pound. (Restaurants will pay $7 a pound for the farm’s green garlic.)

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Some neighbors work in the garden, in exchange for fresh produce. Others visit for biweekly cooking classes. Haddington teens learn garden design, farming techniques and construction skills through a program Neighborhood Foods runs in partnership with the nonprofit Urban Tree Connection.

“It’s not just about produce,” Baird says, “There’s a certain amount of pride, too: ‘This was grown in Haddington.’"

Happening Now!

Neighborhood Foods is preparing for its annual block party, a celebration of the abundance of August produce and the neighborhood’s  support of the project.

For more information, visit neighborhoodfoods.org.